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willnotleaveyou“On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.”

So ends arguably the greatest of all American novels: Moby-Dick. Perhaps if you are a fan of old films, you remember the 1956 film version with the stirring performance by Gregory Peck of the increasingly insane Captain Ahab. But, from its famous first sentence, “Call me Ishmael,” in which Mehlville references the most famous of all biblical orphans, to its last line we just heard where the theme is made explicit, this book is about our sense of being alone in the world. Despite all of the imagery of whales and ships and the sea, Mehlville wrote Moby-Dick to address this un-rootedness, this deep aloneness we feel in the world. This feeling of being an orphan.

We’ve probably all known that feeling at some point:
• Perhaps a number of us can still remember – as young children – our panic at losing sight of mom or dad in the department store…
• Then, how great the pain when they actually do leave us through death…
• Or perhaps we had parents who were never there for us…
• Or maybe it’s the up-rootedness of our mobile society… friends leave… we move… mom and dad no longer live in the same house or even the same city…
• We’re divorced or widowed and it seems like everyone goes on without us, and we just don’t fit in…
Have you ever known this painful part of the human condition, this unease about our lives, this lingering sense of being alone? If you have, then hear this commitment from Jesus in today’s gospel: “I will not leave you orphans.

I will not leave you orphans. That’s the promise. You are not alone in this. I am with you. When you are scared or hurt or confused, when you feel abandoned or forgotten or a failure, I am here. I am with you. You are not alone.

And doesn’t that phrase, “I will not leave you orphans,” encapsulate in a few words the whole ministry of Jesus? Jesus sought out all of those groups who might feel forgotten and abandoned: the lame, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outcasts. Jesus looks precisely and especially for those who might feel most orphaned in this world and reaches out to them to say, “God is with you. You are not alone.

I suggest that this is what God is always doing… around us, in us and through us. It is important that we see it… and that we name it.

For example, have you ever walked into a gathering where you didn’t know anyone, and felt that scared feeling in your stomach? On Saturday night I was invited to a gathering where I only knew the host couple. As I walked through the fence into the backyard, looking for a place to ‘land’, one couple broke the ice for me, by asking if the wine I held in my hands as a gift was white and chilled and opened? And if not, come in anyway. In that kindness and invitation, I heard Jesus say, “I will not leave you orphaned.”

Perhaps you had a tense family situation, and you thought everyone was mad at you, and someone said, “I’m sorry, or I forgive you, or we’re glad you’re here.” In that you heard Jesus say, “I will not leave you orphaned.”

No friend or spouse can always be there or understand you, but if you ever had a friend who listened to your fears, or understood for a moment what it was like to be you, or a spouse who stood by your side at a time of great sorrow, or who held your hand at the hospital bedside and who you knew loved you, in that you heard Jesus say, “I will not leave you orphaned.”

Today, God speaks those words straight and directly to you and to me. “I will not leave you orphans.” I will come to you and live in you. Today, no matter what you are feeling or what you have lost or how difficult are the choices you have had to make lately, Jesus himself says, “You are not alone in this, I’m here. I haven’t left you and will never leave you.”

Moby-Dick has been called by some the greatest of the American novels precisely because it deals with issues of abandonment and aloneness that are so real for so many of us. And yet, it is worth noting that even in the end of Moby-Dick, as we just heard, Ishmael, the quintessential orphan, is not left alone. The Rachel, another ship actually looking for someone else, picks him up from his isolation and brings him home. And we hear again the promise of God… “Love will come. I will not leave you orphaned.”

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

May 25, 2014

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Of many things…

“They will be arriving on Saturday morning, May 31st,” said the voice on the other end of the phone. So for two months, Khanh Van Phan and Quang Van Dihn will be in residence here at St. Ann. Khanh (pronounced ‘Keen’) will be taking ESL classes up the street at UMSL. I am going to set Quang (I will get a pronunciation guide to you when I know it) loose on computerizing the cemetery records, which will be a huge blessing to us, in bringing order and organization to several books of records having to do with our St. Ann cemetery. I suspect I will also find some pastoral things for him to be involved in.

Secondly, I wanted to express my deep thanks and appreciation to Steven Brinkmeyer and Lucy Ellermann (accompanied by Barb Jackson) for assisting with our music ministry at the 11 am mass these past months. They prayerfully planned and rehearsed for each Sunday, and then gave back to God in praise and prayer the talents that God had given to them. For their prayerful witness and selfless dedication to this ministry, I am deeply grateful. This Sunday will be their last in that capacity.

Kate Garrett had a long conversation after the Easter vigil with one of our newest converts and her sponsor, and their friend. Carrie Walther has sung with Kate in the American Chamber Chorale. Elizabeth McKinney, who became Catholic last year, is a med student at Wash U, with a lovely voice. They agreed to form a group of cantors (and a small Schola on occasion) to work with a niece of Kate Garrett who will accompany them on the piano. And because of their music training, don’t be surprised if you hear a three part hymn during the preparation of the gifts or post communion. Just as I was grateful for the prayerful spirit that Steven and Lucy brought to our worship, I am excited for the possibilities that this combination will bring, as well as the connection to the University that this opens up going forward.

Finally, a word of thanks to Carol Giblin who quietly goes about her work of tending the flower gardens and pots, and ornamentals closest to the church and school. And to Walt and Jan Nelson and Kris LeBoeuf who tend the larger flower boundary along Natural Bridge Road. You make our church grounds and environment beautiful! Thanks for your labors of love.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

May 18, 2014

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On Thursday, May 8th, Bishop John Leibrecht, retired Bishop of the Springfield-Cape diocese confirmed 25 of our 7th and 8th graders. It was truly a lovely celebration. My thanks to Kathy Reid, Barb Jackson and the members of the adult choir who were joined by some of our grade school students to lead the singing. You were magnificent! Though I never say it often enough, THANK YOU for the amazing gift of sacred song, prayerfully led and wonderfully chosen, every time you lead the music at our celebrations. What a gift to our worshipping community and our Confirmands.

Thanks also to the members of our Confirmation Preparation Team. What a gift you bring to our parish community. Not only did you lead our Confirmands in prayer and reflection about the Gifts of the Spirit and the Spirit’s role in our lives each of those eight Sunday mornings, but you also witnessed to the concrete effects of the Spirit’s invitations by your lives of service and love. Thanks to Matt Bono, Marie Carter, Chris Dulle, Kate Flatley, Megan Horner, and Holly Scheibel for the gift you are to our parish.

All but the last bills are in, a few receivables are outstanding, the tablecloths are washed, the projectors put away, the date is nearly set for the ‘Thank you dinner’ for the workers, and everything but the thank you notes to our generous sponsors are done for our 44th Annual Sponsor’s Dinner Dance. I wanted to take this time to thank ALL OF YOU for making this fundraiser such a huge success. Whether you helped with decorations, did the set up or tear down, bought a raffle ticket or donated an item for the silent auction, were a sponsor or simply participated in the event, we could not have done it without you. The grand total for this year is looking to be over $61,000. YEA YOU!

In the past, we have been blessed to be able to use the funds for a lot of extra’s around the school – from Mimio projectors to new playground equipment to teacher’s wish lists and the like. This year, however, we are at a different place. As you know, the Missouri Transfer Law affected our enrollment more negatively than we would have liked, with a net loss of about 7 students. Certain incentive programs which we believe will help long term, are an added expense in the short term. The net result is this: The bulk of the Dinner Dance funding will be going to operating expenses. Teacher’s will have what they need to enhance our student learning through the Wish List/Fund a Need monies. But, there will be no ‘big ticket’ items this year. Quality teachers, a solid school and being able to pay the bills are very worthy goals to have achieved. Thanks to one and all for making that possible…

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sign“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” When choosing scripture passages for the funeral of a loved one, a number of people choose today’s Gospel because of that statement in it. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” There seems to be comfort in hearing Jesus say these words.

But how do we picture those “dwelling places”? How would you describe what Jesus proclaims today? If, for example, you were trying to advertise heavenly lodgings as a realtor might, what would you say?
• Well, I suppose there is the obvious: “The view is out of this world.” (Wait, it gets worse.)
• “Heavenly vistas! No, Really, it is heavenly…”
• It’s a ‘Must-see to believe’ and “must believe to see” dwelling.
• And the great selling point: “Down payment already paid by generous benefactor.”
Hell’s realtors, I suppose, would have a tougher sell:
• Shady history blocking you from your dream home – no problem here!
• Save on utilities – no furnace required.

Instead of those kinds of pitches, we simply hear Jesus saying: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” But what is this dwelling place Jesus speaks of? Some have imagined magnificent mansions in the sky, rooms outfitted with every amenity, streets paved with gold. But what we need to understand is that the “Place” Jesus has prepared for us is simply: “relationship.”

Jesus is speaking of relationship; of bringing us into ever deepening relationship with his Father-God. He wants us to enjoy the life-giving, everlasting relationship that he already experiences with the Father.
Certainly Jesus does not live in a gleaming mansion in the sky, rather in a deep, intimate, loving and abiding relationship with God his Father. He says, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” And that is where Jesus wants us to be as well.

A mansion in the sky might be nice to picture, but what makes a mansion, a hovel, or any residence a home is not its size or magnificence. It is the loving relationships that exist within its walls. Jesus has prepared for us the deepest connection with God, with one another, and with all living things. Jesus is not interested in finding us a place on a gold paved street, but a place in the heart of God.

And here is the kicker. He wants us to know that connection NOW – not once we have kicked the proverbial bucket. That’s why we’ve got to learn relationship now: How to have space in our hearts for one another that we might have space in our hearts for the other. Jesus is all about relationship. Nothing else. Now is the time for us to get to know him.

There is a short poem called, “Vigil” by Jane Tyson Clement which speaks to this knowing, this relationship:
If Jesus simply came walking out of the woods this morning, how would I know him?
Would I know him by his step?
Would I know him by my own beating heart?
Would I know him by his eyes?
Would I feel on my shoulder the burden that Jesus carries?
Would I rise and stand still till Jesus drew near?
Would I cover my eyes in shame?
Or would I simply forget everything except that God is here.

Or would I simply forget everything except that God is here?

That is the ‘listing’ that Jesus is truly trying to make this day – an invitation, not to streets paved in gold, but to live in that communion of life and love we already foreshadow here at the altar. And, if like Thomas, you feel like don’t know the way, then spend some time, as did Jane Clement did – by the edge of the proverbial woods – waiting, opening yourself – so that you forget everything except that God is here…

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voiceMom was never one to give long speeches. Or even short ones for that matter. Just a glance and you knew you were in for it. Or just a look and you know you had done well. You knew without too many words, what was expected of you. And you knew, even when mom (and dad) said “no” to movies that the rest of my classmates were seeing, she was not being spiteful, but trying to shape us and prepare us for the kind of living that honors God. I am thankful that I grew up trusting that mom wanted LIFE for us kids, that she wanted us to grow up believing that God wanted no less for us. But it wasn’t until dad was dying in the hospital with a stroke that I realized the depth of mom’s desire about this.

I admit, it was a strange thing to my eyes. Someone had given mom a Divine Mercy prayer card that very week that dad had his stroke. (now keep in mind, this was 9 years before it became an official, recognized Sunday in the Liturgical year – so the devotion itself was not a well known prayer form) And there at the hospital, mom remembered that little prayer card, and there she was, praying this prayer I’d never heard of, over and over and over for my dad, asking God to take him home, to forgive his sins, to let him be granted the gift of the beatific vision. I remember thinking – I wish she would shut up. And I remember thinking, if I were dad, I would be finding a way to come out of my coma to say the same thing: “Mary, would you shut up – I got the message.” But what I came to recognize looking back over that experience is the passion that has always driven my mom – to help bring her husband and her children home to God in heaven. She wanted LIFE and LIFE most abundantly for us – and for her, that meant the life of heaven. So, whatever it took to get us there, that is what she would choose.

That is what the Good Shepherd tells us today in the gospel. That we will recognize the voice of the shepherd in this truth – that God wants only life and life more abundantly for us. That is our Savior’s motivation for us. Everything that is less than our truest and best self, everything that sells our souls cheaply, everything that does not pass the ‘life to the full’ test – that is the work of thieves and robbers; that is the work of the evil one.” Anyone else who comes with a different agenda is not to be trusted. Jesus, the good shepherd is all about ABUNDANT LIFE.

Maybe that comes easier to mothers than it comes to fathers. Or to women then it does to men, I don’t know. I who sometimes make the journey so complicated, to about achievement and performance and the doing of things – need to step back from my activities and let myself be led by that one desire of the Good Shepherd – life and life more abundantly.

So the question becomes in each of those countless decisions we make in a day: Does this action, does this choice, does this path I am considering – does it open me up to the kind of life that God has in store for me? And you’ll know it, not because you are free to do anything your mind can conceive of – (we call that hedonism) – but because you are free to do and seek only the loving thing. Sometimes that indeed is a limiting of my options. I don’t go to certain movies. I don’t hang out at certain drinking establishments. I don’t engage in shady business practices. But most often, it is a sharpening of my heart and will – I do choose to spend time with the difficult in-law. I do choose to bake that casserole for the homeless. I do choose to write to a person on death row. All those behaviors that model themselves after the gatekeeper – that are about a love that sacrifices and gives itself so that others might know life – that is the invitation.

This is why we need to return again and again to this altar, to this place, so that we can put aside all the competing voices in our busy world and listen for the voice of the shepherd. This is why mom and dad dragged us sometimes reluctant kids to church every Sunday, whether our hearts were in it or not. This is why mom said that Divine Mercy Prayer again and again as she knelt by my dying father’s bedside. For it is only around this table that we will see rightly. It is only here that we will truly hear the voice of the Shepherd, who has one desire for us – that we might have LIFE and have it more abundantly. May we live that life abundantly this day.

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As you know, the Missouri Bishops have asked us as committed Catholics to make the wish of one of our newest saints (St. John Paul) a reality in the state of Missouri, by abolishing the death penalty. There are several stages to that battle. The first, in light of the botched execution in Oklahoma and the secrecy around the production of and use of the various drug protocols, is to urge Governor Nixon to call a moratorium on executions in our state. The following link allows you to customize a letter to him, urging a halt to executions in our name. Go to:https://www.votervoice.net/MOCATHOLIC/Campaigns/35923/Respond

They began with an act of kindness to a newly retired, former associate of St. Ann parish. Fr. Bob Corbett was looking for a way to be of service in his retirement. Barbara Lynch ran into him at the store one day and offered him the opportunity to provide the convenience of a Saturday morning mass at a desirable time here in the parish. Bob said those masses with great joy for several months. Health issues intervened and he was no longer able to make the commute to provide that morning mass. So Barb lined up a cadre of other priests to come and fill in. And they have filled in well. However, at my choice, this Saturday morning ‘mass of convenience’ will end on May 31st.

The main reason is simple. With two masses available on Saturday mornings within a mile of St. Ann parish, (the Good Shepherd Convent and Mother of Good Counsel Home – albeit not at the 8am time), it is no longer a good use of priest personnel on the larger Archdiocesan scale to schedule a mass simply for the convenience of a desirable time. The number of parishes which are being run by one priest continues to grow. The number of priests who are available and able to fill in for my brother priests when they desire/need to get away for vacation and retreat and study times has decreased to such an extent, that it is simply not a good use of personnel to ‘use’ one of those possible subs simply for a mass of convenience.

I am sure that Barb would have continued to find my brother priests who were willing to make the journey. With two other options for a Saturday morning mass within a mile, I prefer to allow them to be available to do needed fill in work. Thanks to Barb Lynch who made those masses possible. In the mean time, continue to pray that the Lord of the Harvest send more laborers into his fields, especially as Archdiocesan Priests.

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

May 11, 2014

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stereogramIt was the strangest beginning to a party I had ever experienced. I rang the apartment doorbell and was welcomed by the host. When I walked in, there were about 15 people in the small living room, all staring at a 2 x 3 print on the wall of seemingly unintelligible small dots and shapes in varying shades of blue, in rapt and nearly utter silence. They scarcely noticed me, so intense was their concentration. You would see people adjusting their footing, then telescoping out to capture a wider perspective, then telescoping back in to grasp something in the finer details. Eventually, you would hear someone say, “I see it!” And then they would whisper to the owner of the print, what they saw in that stereographic image, who would either affirm it or say, no, keep looking. Some people never saw it, and would give up in frustration. Those who did would try to help the ones who couldn’t come to see it. SO, the first 45 minutes of the party, I was one of those people, literally staring at the wall, trying to be patient enough to adjust my eyes until the pattern emerged. Strange party. Do you remember those pictures? They are called stereograms. The ‘trick’ was in the focusing of the eyes – you had to see kind of beyond or ‘into’ the picture for it to be revealed.

In this Sunday’s famous, “Road to Emmaus” Easter passage, it was as if the two disciples, who were walking and talking to one another, were contemplating one of those unintelligible stereographic prints. In their discussion, they were squinting, trying to make a coherent picture, not out of a piece of artwork hanging on a wall, but out of the jumbled, seemingly incoherent facts of the previous week of their lives. They had all the data before them – the news of the empty tomb, the story of a vision of angels, the witness of the women and of Peter and the beloved disciple – but they couldn’t see ‘beyond the events’ or ‘into’ the events enough for the picture to become clear.

Enter the stranger, a disguised Jesus, to help them come to see the pattern hidden in plain sight. “Beginning with Moses and the prophets, he interpreted to them” what they could not see. Luke tells us “Their eyes were opened” and the seemingly disparate events of the past week fell into a meaningful pattern that would give direction and meaning to the rest of their lives.

It seems to me that life is loaded with “Road to Emmaus” moments. Events occur in each of our lives that are pregnant with meaning, but we can’t quite bring them into the focus needed to perceive them. There is a sense that there is an intelligible pattern there, something important for our lives, but somehow, like a stereographic image, we have yet to discern it. And like the disciples in this week’s Gospel narrative, we have to be willing to stand before those experiences, so as to let the meaning ‘reveal’ itself to us.

But here is a ‘truth’ that I learned, both at that party and in through the gospel narrative about Emmaus Moments. You had to ‘stay with’ the print, to engage it, to study it, to be with it, for the picture to become clear. So, too, the disciples – it was their invitation to our hidden Lord: “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening” that allowed the time for them to come to recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

A lot of people did the Lent 4.5 small groups, or at least read the bulletin inserts. Is that ‘picture’ clear yet for you, what God is asking you to do or be or become in response to that? Wedding season is upon us – perhaps it is you or a son or daughter, niece or nephew being married. What does that event mean in the unfolding of your life? Perhaps you are coming up on the year anniversary of a death of a spouse or loved one, a significant illness of a friend – how is Jesus walking with YOU and calling you to newness and wholeness of life? Perhaps you are graduating in a few weeks – what has the pattern of college life taught YOU about the life of faith God calls you to?

For here is perhaps the deepest truth about Emmaus moments: “God isn’t finished revealing himself yet.” For you and me, each day is a journey on the Road to Emmaus. Christ is present to us right now disguised in the seemingly humble events of our God-drenched lives. Do you trust there is a meaning there, a truth there, a direction there that lies just beyond the focus of your eyes? Will you spend the time needed looking for the pattern God is trying to reveal to you?

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